If I had to sum up Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Court of Owls in just one word then I would choose ‘history’. However, if I was allowed one more word I think I’d add the prefix ‘(unnecessary)’, brackets included. While Court of Owls is by far and away the best new Batman story I have read in years, Snyder’s desire to give the proceedings an added weight through certain intertwining historical events is questionable tactic that both has merit and yet somehow has a shoehorned feel to it.
The history behind the Court’s existence is both well-thought-out and masterfully told. There’s so much to love about this story: Bruce finally returning to his Detective roots after having to endure the effects and PTSD of Grant Morrison’s literally awful, over-convoluted and quite frankly pathetic Batman R.I.P., art work that brings back memories of The Dark Knight Returns yet with its own unique edge, Bruce punching Grayson in the face, Jim Gordon Year One levels of importance and sincerity, Bruce punching Dick Grayson in the face – it’s got everything. Given that we like our Batman stories as real as possible we did become slightly aggrieved at the Talons’ regenerative ‘powers’ and Mr. Freeze’s involvement – although Batman Annual #1 story tie-in was quite simply amazing.
The Court of Owls also raises the continual question of to how big a role Batman’s buddies should play a role in his life and the DC Universe. One that in many is answered within the confines of this arc and perhaps the forthcoming Death of the Family [which we hope will be taken literally - Ed.]So the need for the Haly’s circus angle is beyond me. Why does everything has to fit together? It’s as though there was a concerted effort to tie everyone and thing in a neat, bat-sized bow. It felt contrived. Dick doesn’t need any more back story. He’ll always remain a periphery character, and although the attempts to his past a more murky bent, he’ll always be a two-dimensional hot-head in great need of a hair cut and a punch in the face (thanks, Scott).
Jarvis Pennyworth! Why bring him back again? The need to tell a story seems to outweigh the relevance of one. Why do it? He’s a loyal servant to Bruce – a surrogate father, if you will – and that’s it. Oh, and he’s from England. Speaks with an English accent. Probably wouldn’t if he’d spent his whole life in Gotham surrounded by Americans, though. See? His character is now disjointed due to some strange attempt at a universal Gotham mythos that has somehow always housed, and in many ways created, these characters. Not necessary. His simpler, post-Crisis persona would have sufficed: employed by Thomas Wayne from the British Royal family as hired help. Easy, let’s move on. Why does Alfred need a story? It’s almost as though history = depth. It doesn’t. Only if history and persona fit together does it have a place in narrative, not story for the sake of story: storytelling 101.
I could go on about the various tie-ins, and how they once again underline the fact that Batman ‘needs’ his buddies in order to rule the roost, and how that irks me. Batman doesn’t need Dick, Jason, Tim, Barbara, Selina or anyone – they all just serve to weaken the character. Strange that every writer, and DC themselves, harp on about Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan’s Batman, but all of them feel Batman needs Grayson and the other also-rans in order to keep the peace. I know it’s an attempt to make Bruce appear less of a borderline-psycho and more human, but I like Batman because he’s borderline-psycho, I like Batman when he takes pleasure in the pain he dishes out. Damien or Dick ‘saving him’ or seeing him finally open up to Grayson in Owls was a disappointment. Grayson should have stayed down when floored in The Cave.However, it’s easier to criticise something than to lavish praise, and I realise that my gripes are more aimed at DC themselves than SCott Snyder. He has his remit and has done a fantastic job with tools available to him. It’s very rare both artist and writer match each other in terms of movement, action and atmosphere but this pairing is a master-stroke. Capullo’s pen-strokes capture the gritty undertones in Snyder’s sentences as the battered Bruce fumbles his way through the grime of Gotham City. Putting the history to one side, this as a good a Batman story as it gets, and provides the perfect platform for Batman in The New 52. However, doubts still linger over the periphery characters in the universe and their subsequent future roles.